Planet Golf — 21 February 2022 by Candace Oehler
A look back at the WM ‘party’

SCOTTSDALE, AZ – It was a tournament unlike any other in WM Phoenix Open history. With a crowd ready to shed Pandemic blues, the event exploded into an epic celebration. After a limit of 5,000-8,000 spectators in 2021, the cap was lifted completely and TPC Scottsdale returned to its rightful place as both The People’s Open and the Greenest Show on Grass. Although attendance records are no longer released, it’s likely this year’s tournament equaled or surpassed 2018’s record 719,000.

So many highlights: Not just one, but two holes-in-one a day apart (the first since 2015); an inaugural pre-tournament concert at the 16th hole; the emergence of the next golf star (Sahith Theegala); a special PGA honor awarded to an inspirational non-golfer; another exciting sudden-death playoff (the 15th in tournament history); and the joy of a first time PGA TOUR winner (Scottie Scheffler).

Throughout it all, official tournament hosts Phoenix Thunderbirds were ubiquitous, with stacks of $2 bills poking out of their distinctive long-sleeved, navy velour tunic top pockets. Turns out those bills are “Tipping Twos,” a tradition members of the fraternal service club created to distribute tips to servers and other tournament workers. Their outfits may draw smirks, especially on blistering 90-degree, sunny days, but the group has raised more than $165 million for local charities in the tournament’s 85-year history. It’s anticipated that the 2022 event will easily eclipse the $3.8 million generated in attendance-limited 2021.

Hablamos Español

Carlos Ortiz, whose Sunday hole-in-one at the 16th received minimal media coverage, is part of a growing contingent of professional golfers from Spanish-speaking countries. He was one of six native Spanish speakers in the field, representing Spain, Colombia, Mexico (2), Chile, and Argentina.

The Guadalajara, Mexico native, who counts Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa as a close friend and inspiration, finished the week at -7, T33. But he said he’ll never forget going 1 on the 16th, followed by a 2 on the treacherous risk/reward Par 17th, the first time he’s gone 1, 2, in his career. Even better, when he returns next year, he’ll see his name (along with Sam Ryder’s) added permanently to the Hole-In-One plaque that sits at the entrance to the coliseum hole.

When asked how he planned to celebrate, he replied unsurprisingly, “Tequila.”

(Should read “2022”)
Colombian Sebastian Muñoz had plenty of family support.

Coming Back to Earth

Sam Ryder, whose Saturday hole in one at the 16th generated a beer- and bottle-throwing frenzy from 17,000 fans, got a totally different reception on Sunday. He was actually booed by the fickle crowd when he failed to follow up with another ace. A case of “what have you done for me lately…..” Ryder generously took care of the media, caddies, his fellow pros, and other tournament workers when his Saturday round concluded. Thanks, Sam!

Welcome to the Show!

2020 Pepperdine grad Sahith Theegala made the most of his sponsor’s exemption this week, and entered the final round with a one-shot lead over Brooks Koepka. An unfortunate water ball on the 17th tripped the rookie up, however, and he missed being part of the playoff between Patrick Cantlay and eventual first-time winner Scottie Scheffler. He finished one stroke behind the leaders, and his T3 moved him up to 40th in the FedEx Cup standings.

It was an impressive week for the 24-year old, who quickly became a fan favorite, with crowds chanting “Thee-ga-la,” “Thee-ga-la” everywhere. He was clearly moved by the immense support from not only fans, but the several dozen friends and family members, including his college coach, who were there to support him throughout the week.

He was especially surprised by the Sunday arrival of his younger brother from New Jersey.

“That meant the world to me that he would come out, the middle of the school year on a Sunday. He’s going to have
to go back and go to school. That’s incredible that he did that. It means the world to me.”

Theegala certainly held his own in the impressive field that featured six of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking (most since 2003) and 28 of the top 50 (most since 2004). There were 99 PGA TOUR winners in the field, and he nearly made it 100. After a T8 at Sanderson Farms and his good play at WM Phoenix Open, he goes into Riviera (a home game for him) with confidence and momentum.

He agreed that navigating the four-day raucous atmosphere in Phoenix made him feel he could handle anything.

“Yeah, it sure seems like it. I don’t think there’s going to be another week where you’re going to have all these fans — I mean, I loved it. It was awesome. I think from here on out, it makes everything else feel a little bit easier to focus and concentrate. I’ll miss some of the loud cheers for sure. I’ll definitely miss that. But yeah, if we could focus this week, I think the rest of the weeks are going to feel a little bit easier.”

An emotional Theegala following his Sunday round.

The Chests Seen Around the World

Antics at the 16th continued with the Sunday disrobing of Harry Higgs and former UW Husky Joel Dahmen, a pairing made in journalistic heaven. They were the 22nd of 23 groups, both at +1, with no chance to win. So …. in a Saturday night Tweet, Dahmen issued a challenge when he learned he’d be paired with Higgs in the final round. “Dreams do come true! If we get enough retweets @harryhiggs1991 will take his shirt off on 16 tomorrow.” The Twitterverse responded with over 7,000 retweets, and the rest is dubious history. Both golfers ended up removing their shirts and danced topless around the 16th to the cheers (and jeers) of the fans. It was a far more entertaining spectacle than the 2018 streaker on the 17th fairway!

After the round, the jovial Higgs admitted that he “may have gone too far,” and he expects the duo to face TOUR fines.

Fully-clothed Joel Dahmen
A slightly contrite Harry Higgs

In addition to any fines, they should also apologize for inspiring legions of shirtless partiers….

The Holey Cactus

Thanks to my colleague, Greg Moore of the Arizona Republic, for pointing out the two holey saguaros no more than 30 yards beyond the 1st hole back tee box. A close look reveals some golf balls actually embedded in the cactus, while the holes also make nice nesting spots for the birds. The mystery of the hole making persists, with two schools of thought – either very bad drives, or deliberate targeting. Talor Gooch shared his thoughts on this compelling issue.

DJ Gregory Inspires

The first non-player to be honored with the prestigious PGA TOUR Courage Award, DJ has raised $1 million for children’s charities though his Walking for Kids Foundation. Born with cerebral palsy, he has walked over 14,000 miles and 42,000 holes at PGA TOUR events since 2008. He walks with a player at each event, and accompanied Jon Rahm at the WMPO. When I caught up to him at the 16th hole, he shared his surprise at receiving the honor and accolades from players and the TOUR. More info at and @walkingforkids.

DJ Gregory

Old Friends

It’s always a pleasure to run into Bob Turner, Hideki Matsuyama’s long-time translator. Bob is also father of Alan Turner, Ichiro’s translator/assistant.

Bob Turner and the author

Just Because

Everyone needs a dog photo or two. This is beautiful Rye, the working bird dog of TPC Scottsdale. When not chasing feathery flyers, Rye graciously sits for ear rubs, photos, and hand shakes.

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About Author

Candace Oehler’s deep dive into sports media began several decades ago when she won a trip from Seattle to Mariners spring training in Arizona. Noting that non-English-speaking Latino ball players received little, if any, media coverage, she fluently/en español became a pioneer in Spanish sports media, and eventually became known affectionately throughout the Latino MLB community as “La Veterana.” Candace has written for team publications and; hosted her own radio show on several Spanish-language stations; served as producer/reporter/engineer for the Mariners’ inaugural season of Spanish radio broadcasts; and has been a reporter for MLB Network Radio the past 10 years. She was invited to Venezuela by future Hall-of-Fame shortstop Omar Vizquel to cover rebuilding efforts and accomplishments of his charitable foundation following the devastating 1999 mudslides; worked in Puerto Rico for former Major Leaguers Joey Cora and Carlos Baerga managing fundraising events; and was the only female in the raucous locker room when the hometown favorite Licey Tigers won the 2004 Caribbean World Series in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Candace was introduced to the game of golf in 1992 by members of Seattle’s historic Fir State Golf Club, who had approached her to manage their (then) little fundraising tournament hosted by a shy, gangly 15-year old Tiger Woods. Candace co-managed the annual event for nearly 20 years, working with hosts that included Ken Griffey, Sr., Birdie Griffey, Mike Cameron, Nate McMillan, Warren Moon, and Dale Ellis. She became secretary of the club and the Fir State Junior Golf Foundation, and got totally, completely hooked on golf, learning to play on a set of Redbirds given to her by the club (apparently they considered her mother’s Patty Bergs a bit antiquated). She has since traded up to another set of Redbirds and a much more user-friendly golf environment in Arizona. And, once a prolonged stint on the DL is over, she can’t wait to get back on the course and continue lowering her current 21-handicap to ….?

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